The Democrats’ Demographic Dreams
If Democrats agree on anything, it’s that they will eventually be on the winning side. The white Americans who tend to vote Republican are shrinking as a percentage of the population while the number of those who lean Democratic—African Americans and other minorities—is rapidly growing. Slightly more than half of American infants are now nonwhite. By 2050, the U.S. population is expected to increase by 117 million people, and the vast majority—82 percent of the 117 million—will be immigrants or the children of immigrants. In a little more than 30 years, the U.S. will be a “majority-minority” country. By 2050, white Americans will no longer be a solid majority but the largest plurality, at 46 percent. African Americans will drop to 12 percent, while Asian Americans will make up 8 percent of the population. The number of Latinos will rise to nearly a third of all Americans.
It’s become an article of faith among many progressives that these trends set the stage for a new Democratic majority. A decade ago, Ruy Teixeira and John B. Judis popularized this argument in their book The Emerging Democratic Majority. More recently, Jonathan Chait in New York magazine made a similar case: “The modern GOP—the party of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes—is staring down its own demographic extinction,” he wrote. “Conservative America will soon come to be dominated, in a semi-permanent fashion, by an ascendant Democratic coalition hostile to its outlook and interests.”
At the moment, Democrats have a powerful hold on nonwhite voters. African Americans routinely vote Democratic by huge margins; 95 percent cast ballots for President Barack Obama, and on average 88 percent have voted for Democratic candidates since 1964, the year Lyndon Johnson guided the Civil Rights Act through Congress. Over the past decade, Latinos have also become a reliably Democratic constituency; 67 percent voted for Obama, and 60 percent supported Democrats in the 2010 congressional elections, when Republicans triumphed otherwise. Asian Americans are only a bit less enthusiastic about the Democrats.
At the same time that Democrats won the overwhelming support of African Americans, white voters began to make a corresponding shift into the Republican Party. With the help of racist appeals to the former Confederacy (the “Southern Strategy”), Republicans built on their advantage with white voters to earn a decisive share of their support. In 1972, Richard Nixon won nearly 70 percent of white voters, and in 1984, Ronald Reagan won 64 percent of whites. In the last decade of presidential elections, Republicans have won, on average, 56 percent of the white vote. If whites were the only people who voted in presidential elections, Democrats could not win.